Hello, my name’s Keith and I’m a car enthusiast.
There, I said it. Being blessed with a forename like mine, the chances were that I would at some point indulge in an obsessive compulsion for one fascination or another. That said, the anorak I sport on a daily basis is branded with the hallmarks of automotive history, rather than locomotive nameplates; instead of scribbled down aeroplane codes my notebook’s full of car review jottings.
It’s a desire that’s burned since I was a toddler – clichéd but true – learning the nuances between different models by reading the inscriptions stamped onto the undersides of Matchbox and Majorette die-casts where the floorpan should be. As the passion grew, so did my willingness to fuel its flames by collecting evermore motoring ephemera. In addition to buying magazines so regularly the newsagent set his watch by my visits, I became the bane of car salesmen’s lives, frequently clearing their showroom shelves of brochures.
A quarter century on I’ve amassed an archive of 30,000 individual items of motoring literature. When people are faced by it for the first time, the usual reaction is to be silent and open-mouthed. Seldom is it in awe, more often due to the result of bewilderment that someone might have such a deep-seated enthusiasm yet still be relatively, well, normal.
You see, despite the ease of which we can converse online with people from all over the globe and browse the billions of websites on all manner of varied subjects, that are very literally at our fingertips wherever we may be, passions are pigeonholed. These societal slots are organised by the sway of fashionable thinking, determining that some are deemed positive and to be encouraged, whilst others and their patrons are shunned or ridiculed.
In spite of the millions of cars on Britain’s roads, the multi-billion Pound industry it provides for the UK economy and that after buying property, cars are typically our second most expensive purchases. Yet to announce oneself as a motoring enthusiast in general conversation is tantamount to confirming you’re the source of the body odour in the room.
Don’t believe me? How many times do you find yourself being the only one in a group unable to offer anything to a discussion because for hours the conversation revolves solely around 22 guys running around a field kicking a leathery sphere? Football’s never been something that’s fired my imagination but not being a devout follower of the beautiful game makes you a social pariah in the eyes of some.
I’m not knocking anyone else’s interests; I genuinely believe a passion can increase the articulacy of the person who feels it, while the fervour itself can be inspiring to behold. But why is it having a decade’s worth of Doncaster Rovers football programmes is celebrated, whereas the owner of a full set of sales brochures for the Volvo 66 is castigated? When I hear talk of Alonso’s performance at the weekend my ears prick up in the hope that it’s Fernando and not Xabi who is the epicentre of the discourse.
Further evidence of how motoring enthusiasm is seen as culturally passé can be found in most High Street branches of Waterstone’s or WHSmith. When you eventually find the sorry tale that is the transport books section, invariably the shelves are predominantly stocked with aircraft and steam train tomes, with a token slot set aside for cars. And even then, the selection’s both limited and curious. Between the Clarkson and Top Gear branded hardy perennials, you may happen across a Haynes manual for a Peugeot 307.
How much further will this persist, being made to feel like an outcast for getting a genuine buzz of excitement from my infatuation for the automobile? Are we far away from a situation where your partner looks over your shoulder at your laptop and asks ‘were you just looking at classic cars for sale?’ as you frantically clear your internet history. Is it that left of field that the Jordan 1-2 I want to appreciate is a YouTube posting of Damon and Ralf on the podium at Spa in 1998, not Katie Price’s inflated assets.
Occasionally you’ll be introduced to someone with a line like ‘you two will get on as you’re both into cars.’ All too often, ‘into cars’ is a sloppy innuendo for ‘they’ve got the complete box set of The Fast and The Furious and that’s as far as it goes.’ I want to converse with people who lament the passing of the Ghia badge on prestige Fords; who have a genuine opinion on whether we’ll eventually favour hybrids or pure EVs; and who, upon hearing mention of the initials R/T, automatically think Road/Track and not Re-Tweet.
But rejoice, for it’s not all bad news. Social media will be the salvation for us with interests that lie beyond the realms of voguish convention. Over the past year of becoming a hopelessly addicted Tweeter, involving myself with likeminded others spreading the gospel of car enthusiasm, two particular facets have become especially apparent.
Reassuringly, having a passion for all things automotive does not make us members of a tired, old club, declining in numbers. There’s an enormous wealth of interest, intellect and impassioned championing of all marques and models imaginable. Secondly, it confirms what I had always hoped – that the internet would demolish traditional barriers and open all fields of interest to people who wouldn’t have displayed such enthusiasm before. In the world of cars the biggest change is the rapid erosion of male chauvinism. Check for yourself at the number of women who blog about all aspects of motoring and motorsport with knowledge and authority.
In the outside world, there are hopeful signs too. People still stop and stare at beautiful, rare and unusual cars, which act as icebreakers as opinions are shared and conversely, the magazine stands in WHSmith are packed with a plethora of motoring titles vying for attention with alluring mastheads and covers promising gratifying contents within. Who knows, the social influencers might decide that 2012 is the year car enthusiasm becomes sexy for the masses again.
Rant over. I’ve got a selection of 1970s Datsun price lists to sort into chronological order.